Cannabis and The LGBTQ+ Community: A Legacy of Interconnection

The LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and more!) community and cannabis have been linked for decades. With Pride Month being in full swing, I wanted to take a moment and look at the history of cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community, what is happening now, and what people in the cannabis space can do to support this colorful community (and vice versa).

A Brief History

It’s strange to think that in 2012, both cannabis and same-sex marriage were largely illegal throughout the country. This year marked something of a tipping point for both cannabis consumers and the LGBTQ+ community as Colorado and Washington paved the way for cannabis legalization and Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, becoming the first president to do so. In 2012, Gallup reported that just 48% of Americans supported cannabis legalization and same-sex marriage. A lot has changed since then and today, Americans support both legalization and LGBTQ+ rights at around 70%. Same-sex marriage is legal in every state following the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges and 46 states have at least some THC or CBD access. But cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community have an even longer history than just the 2010s.

Back in the 1970s, San Francisco based advocate Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold public office, was also one of the biggest proponents of cannabis legalization. A consumer himself, Milk led a voter-supported effort which saw San Francisco become one of the first cities in the country to end cannabis arrests in the city. Tragically, he would be assassinated before he was able to see the measure enacted.

At the height of the HIV/ AIDs crisis through the 1980s and 90s which saw over 100,000 American fatalities, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, clubs, bars, and nonprofits offered cannabis to AIDs patients as a means of palliative care. While cannabis cannot cure AIDs, it has been documented as helping people with some of the symptoms of the virus such as combating weight loss, pain, nausea, and depression. One of the key individuals involved in these efforts to was Dennis Peron, a supporter of Milk’s when he lived in San Francisco’s Castro District, who not only organized activist smoke-ins nationwide but also ran for multiple public office positions (including president!) and was a crucial figure in promoting the medical benefits of cannabis after his partner contracted and subsequently died of AIDS. In an era of extreme stigmatization alongside hatful rhetoric and actions, cannabis was often used as a medicinal refuge and recreational means of escape for tens of thousands of people.         

Connecting Queer Spaces With Cannabis Now

That escapism continues to this day, with the LGBTQ+ community consuming cannabis at a higher rate, and gay men specifically smoking cannabis four times more than their heterosexual counterparts. Drag star Laganja Estranja said there’s a lot of appeal for cannabis. “I would say yes, cannabis is commonly consumed at a higher rate in the LGBTQAI+ community…I think a lot of people who are gay, bisexual or non-binary (turn to cannabis) because they are ostracized at a very young age, whereas someone who is straight or in a heteronormative relationship isn’t quite as often. There is a higher stress level for people in the community.”

It cannot be understated the impact that social equity programs and initiatives have had with bringing the LGBTQ+ community into the medical and legal cannabis marketplace, but more still can be done. Presently, the LGBTQ+ community is vastly underrepresented in ownerships and executive leadership roles in cannabis businesses. This is even more glaring a discrepancy in leadership when looking at Black, Latino, and Asian LGBTQ+ individuals. As active and eager consumers, there are still ways to better integrate pride, tangible responsibilities, and advocacy into cannabis operations. 

Looking Towards A Future of Better Support and Interaction

Most states do not have LGBTQ+ individuals as being part of their social equity programs. New York came close recently with New York State Senator Jeremy Cooney introducing legislation in 2021 to do so, however, the bill did not make it out of committee. Other states have already done so, such as Vermont. This scattered approach to social equity on a state-by-state basis is reminiscent of the early days of same sex marriage and shows that without greater federal action and promotion in the cannabis space, we may have a very checkered map in cannabis for years to come. 

Still, individual businesses, business owners, and advocates in cannabis can work to bolster greater inclusivity. This includes highlighting businesses and stories of LGBTQ+ owners and operators, such as what the National Cannabis Industry Association has done. There are also brands and products which are produced by 100% LGBTQ owned businesses with some of these being highlighted by The Cannigma. There’s advocacy in a political space which can enact changes to their rollouts of adult-use and medical operations to be more inclusive. Some target states for this include Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, and North Carolina. And, as much as it may be criticized for overindulging in “rainbow capitalism,” it never hurts to spotlight the importance of the LGBTQ+ community during June (and beyond for that matter) if you’re an individual, business, or stakeholder in cannabis.

The LGBTQ+ community and cannabis have been linked for decades and will continue to be for decades more. So, take a hit, pop an edible, or raise a glass with Pride. A lot of strides have been made, but more work is to be done!

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